Monday, April 03, 2006


The Godol Hador has posted a short piece about faith versus reason, in which he imagines a possible exchange between Avraham and his kinfolk over idols. The point which GH makes is that reason must best faith.

This of course also brought up the Akeidah, which several of the commenters on GH's blog hash back and forth, using it for different examples and postulating different meanings.

The post, plus the comments, can be seen here:

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I also took part in the discussion. Now bear in mind that, as always on a Monday, I have not had enough sleep, and am wired to the eye-brows on cheap caffeine. So I may not be entirely compos-mentis. Certainly my perspective is affected by my state.

My comments are below - the bold part is what I commented on, the regular text underneath is what I wrote.
Feedback will be appreciated.

'The fundamentalists hold that Faith must win over Reason.'
[Note: this was said by GH]

Shouldn't faith and reason be in a state of permanent conflict? How else can one exercise choice? If one side loses out, the other side is not an alternative but an only answer - and then there is no choice (and man becomes irrelevant).

'Where most religions go wrong is the idea that priests must be fed.'
[This was one of my comments. In re-reading it, it sounds like glib snark.]

I was actually thinking of non-Jewish priests here. Hence the plural (religions). The position of kohanim is more a caste than a vocation, and as we know it now, they cannot be seen as priests in fact, but more like priests in potential.

'Blind obedience... G-d didn't really want him to kill Yitzchak... a G-d who doesnt want human sacrifice'
[This is a composite of three different writers commenting.]

A monumental game of chicken. Will G-d insist? Will Avraham rebel? Will Yitzhak flee?

If Avraham does NOT hope (not assume, but hope) that G-d will demur, then Avraham is not a fit father of a multitude. If G-d does NOT demur, there is no righteousness, and existence is merely brutal pandering to force. If Yitzhak does NOT trust completely in both of them, the multitude to whom Avraham will be a father is going to be marked by disobedience and dissension.

Yitzhak in this equation has stands in for the Jewish people, whose fate and future are being fought out between G-d and Avraham.

But can we really know what went on? Wouldn't coming to an agreed upon interpretation of this event be defining that which we cannot define? Perhaps one of the points of this episode is that we cannot ever know precisely what it means, and how it played out in the minds and emotions of Avraham and Yitzhak.

'Right. Thats why he put up a post on Sefas Emes.'
[Lakewoodyid said this, in reference to my previous blog-post, response to a remark.]

The Sfas Emes is a sehr shtarke denker with an intelligent approach to re-thinking the meaning of the texts (while he does not challenge the need to take their truth for granted). I appreciate the process while often doubting the premise.[Or, to put it differently, it is good to find meaning, while not necessarily being convinced that there is meaning.]

'BoTH is not jewish? then why does he know hebrew and what the hell is he doing talking hashkafa with us??? I've got to admit, i'm shocked.'
[Written by maamin ben maamin]

Who else's hashkofo discussions am I going to listen to?

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Note: Mis-nagid wrote: "Apparently you don't know BotH. You think I'm an apikores? He's a bigger one--and goy to boot!"

I don't deny either assertion - that I'm an Apikores and that I'm goyish.

But to whose faith am I an Apikores?

Several generations ago, on both sides, the family tree was sodden with Calvinists. In more recent times we've flown in under the radar as very casual Anglicans, and in at least the last three generations we've kept far from priests and congregations.
So perhaps a better term is heretic - apikores suggests someone who picks and chooses (the subconscious implication of the original Greek term - 'epicure'), whereas heretic has a nice smell of burning faggots and unreconstructed dissidents, who with their dying breaths spit upon the priest.

I have rejected a large part of the Judeo-Christian tradition (a circumcision as it were, having lopped off the later accretions), but that does not mean that I have thrown it all out the door - just the Christian part.

That part was the natural stompin' ground of loonies anyhow. Some mighty strange fish in that there swamp (just imagine the three-eyed fish in the river into which the nuclear plant empties its waste on the Simpsons).

The Judaic component of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition has not nearly been stressed enough. There is much there that stimulates far more than the strange messianic and end-of-times fantasies of crazed saints and bigoted martyrs (although the Book of Revelations is an absolute hoot, on par with 'Howl' and 'Naked Lunch').

An eighty-year old friend, of impeccable Italian Catholic background, says that the Romans did not kill nearly enough Christians.

Given how many of them there are, you would think they'd stop playing the poor little oppressed lambs already.

I am much too much a sceptic however to unquestioningly accept the parts of the tradition that I have not rejected. I insist on being 'disagreeable'.

Chazal may have, as some aver, "been a bunch of ruddy geniuses the like of which our unworthy generations have never seen, we should be ever so grateful for the tiny lights of lomdus that flicker among the greats of our age, bla bla and bla", but I refuse to take that for granted. And neither should you. Faith is not possible unless there is doubt.
[You have a brain, your brain was built for inquiry and curiosity, fercrapssakes use it. It atrophies if you don't. A head should not be a rusty bucket!]

As to why I cannot believe that weird Messianic stuff, there are many reasons, not least of which is that no faith will be possible post-Messiah, and clearly certainty at present is impossible - ergo this is not the post-Messianic age.

He has not come yet. We hope he will come soon and in our days, but untill that happens we will be patient.


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

But is the idea of other people working to feed an entire priestly caste better than the idea of them working to feed a priestly class?

You may be a "goyish apikores" bigger than Mis-nagid, but you're definitely more polite than him too :-) .

Phillip Minden said...

Unfortunately, politeness, aka derech eretz, is considered goyish these days all too often.

But what I wanted to say: I'm afraid there is no Jewish-Christian heritage. If you subtract all things Christian, there'll be nothing left. Christianity did away with anything Jewish.

The back of the hill said...

I'm afraid there is no Jewish-Christian heritage. If you subtract all things Christian, there'll be nothing left.

In one sense that is correct.

On the other hand, if you excise the Christian element, it won't distract you from Torah, Nach, Mishnah, and Gemarra, and the later commentaries. Which, no longer occluded, spring into visibility.

It has been said that 'that man' said little that wasn't already said better. And briefer - Pirkei Avos encapsulates the ethical side nicely.

There is also, admittedly of dubious value, the martyr aspect to 'that derech', but even that Rabbi Akiva did better.

Part of the Judeo-Christian tradition is reaction towards each other, and there is also some influence on each other's thought. Neither side lived in a vacuum.

But there is no shared focus. The sharing, or overlap, is in source texts. So, chucking the gospels etcetera out of the window, one is left with a Judaic foundation.

Which is certainly not nothing.

lakewoodyid said...

one question.

was your mother jewish?

The back of the hill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The back of the hill said...

was your mother jewish?


There may have been someone Jewish somewhere in her ancestry (or in my father's, though that is less likely).

But as far back as I can research (only six generations for her mother's family), there were no Jewish family members.

Anonymous said...

Unless you have faith in our Lord and Saviour you will not find everlasting life. Repent now.

The back of the hill said...

Sorry, anonymous, I categorically unrepent.

I disrepent.

I fail to repent.

I repent not.

I repent in absolutley no way.

Your ways of repenting are not my ways.

In fact, I anti-repent.

Phillip Minden said...

Wow, if this inn't repenning, what is?

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